Naval Research Laboratory (U.S.)

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This interview was conducted as part of the background research for David DeVorkin's biography of George Carruthers. Gerald Carruthers is the younger brother of George. The interview begins with Carruthers describing his early childhood years and family life, particularly the period when the family lived on a farm in Milford, Ohio. He recalls the many farm chores done by him and his siblings, especially George who was the eldest. Carruthers remembers George building his first telescope on the farm, which accidentally started a small fire. He describes his father’s work as a civil engineer and his grandmother’s work as a teacher, a legacy which he suspects influenced George’s later interest in science education. Carruthers recalls George being extremely focused and dedicated from a young age, and he describes George’s knack for art and drawing. He discusses the family’s move to Chicago after their father died and recalls the racial discrimination they faced in the neighborhood and at school. Carruthers shares memories of George spending time at Adler Planetarium, participating in science fairs, and building rockets in the yard. He recalls his mother’s job at the post office, where George also worked during summers home from college. Carruthers describes his own military service working on missile systems, work which took him to many places including Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Germany. He shares memories of George’s wife, Sandra, as well as George’s humility when it came to his many achievements.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This interview was conducted as part of the background research for David DeVorkin's biography of George Carruthers. This is a focused interview with George “Pinky” Nelson, an astronaut trained in physics and astronomy who flew three times on the space shuttle between 1978 and 1989. The interview covers his selection as a mission specialist astronaut and his experiences going through the selection process. It also covers his specific astronomical interests in solar physics and how his general interests in the space sciences, as well as a personal interest in flying, led him to apply to be an astronaut. The main body of the interview relates to Nelson’s description of the selection process, and his contacts with Naval Research Laboratory astronomer George Carruthers, who applied to be an astronaut in the same group as Nelson but was not chosen.

Interviewed by
Michael Duncan
Interview date
Abstract

The interview begins with a discussion of Giallorenzi’s youth, including his education and anecdotes about his early jobs, as well as his undergraduate and graduate work at Cornell University and his work on the scattering of laser light in Chung Tang’s laboratory there. Giallorenzi recounts his first laboratory job at GT&E Laboratories working on laser displays and arc lamps, and his move soon thereafter to the Quantum Optics Branch at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. He discusses his work at NRL on fiber optics applied to sensor technology, including acoustic and magnetic sensors, and to pathbreaking R&D in microwave photonics. He also discusses his move to leading the then-newly created NRL Optical Techniques Branch, the departure of staff working on nuclear fusion to Livermore, and new R&D directions within his branch that were necessitated by the termination of work on liquid crystals. He recalls his relationship with NRL Director of Research Alan Berman, his promotion to Optical Sciences Superintendent, his division’s focus on high-power lasers, including MIRACL, and his decision to terminate a branch within the division. He further discusses his relationship with the Pentagon, status as a member of the Senior Executive Service, and experiences as a high-level administrator. The interview concludes with discussions of other technologies NRL worked on, the balance between basic and applied research at the lab, awards Giallorenzi has received, and his work with advisory panels, the Naval Center for Space Technology, and the Optical Society of America (now Optica).

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Elaine Oran, Professor of Aerospace Engineering and O’Donnell Foundation Chair at Texas A&M. Oran describes her core interest in fluid dynamics and why aerospace engineering provides an ideal home department for her research. She recounts her childhood in Philadelphia, her early interests in science, and her undergraduate experience at Bryn Mawr. She explains her decision to attend Yale for her graduate work in physics, where she focused on phase transitions, and she explains the opportunities that led to her work at the Naval Research Laboratory. Oran describes her research in laser-matter interactions and the value of the Laboratory for Computational Physics. She discusses her early interests in reactive flows and how this field became broadly applicable across the sciences. Oran describes being in Washington on 9/11 and her involvement in studying the explosions. She discusses her decision to join the faculty at the University of Maryland and her research in fire whirls and she explains her subsequent move to A&M where she was attracted by the interdisciplinary research opportunities. Oran describes her work in numerical simulations and the interplay between theory and experiment in her research. At the end of the interview, Oran emphasizes the importance of spontaneity and an openness to pursue science in unexpected directions.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This is an interview with Janice Steckel, research scientist at the National Energy Technology Lab and visiting scientist at the University of Pittsburgh. Steckel recounts her childhood in Maryland and what it was like to grow up learning from her father, who was a physicist at the Naval Research Lab and then at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Steckel explains that she was not interested in science growing up, and she describes her major in dance at the University of Maryland and then at Ohio State. Steckel explains her decision to pursue a degree in chemistry in her late 20s and how this developed into her academic specialty in physical chemistry at the University of West Virginia. She discusses her graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh to focus on density functional theory with Ken Jordan. Steckel describes her postdoctoral research at the Vienna Ab initio Simulation Package Group, and she explains the opportunities that led to her initial appointment at NETL. She discusses her initial research on mercury and its impact on coal burning for power generation. Steckel explains her transition to the carbon capture group at the Lab and she describes the different options available to capture and sequester carbon emissions. She describes NETL’s role in the larger federal framework for national energy policy, and she shares her views on how carbon-based energy sources will play a role in an increasingly de-carbonized future. At the end of the interview, Steckel explains the value of computational integration to her work and the promise that machine learning offers for the future of energy research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Wayne Hendrickson, Violin Family Professor of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University. Hendrickson recounts his childhood on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and explains how this environment fostered his interest in the natural world. He describes his undergraduate experience at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, and his formative work at Argonne Lab where he studied Caesium-137 levels in beagle dogs. Hendrickson describes his intent to focus on biophysics in graduate school and his decision to accept at offer at Johns Hopkins, where he became interested in protein crystallography and electron microscopy. He discusses his dissertation research under the direction of Warner Love and the importance of the research conducted at Woods Hole which influences his work on studying hemoglobin in lampreys. Hendrickson describes the importance of computational biology and the promises this offered protein crystallography, and he explains the influence of Linus Pauling in advancing the field. He explains why he stayed on at Hopkins after his defense because he felt there was more work for him to complete on the Patterson function. Hendrickson discusses his work at the Naval Research Laboratory on parvalbumin molecules and his developing interests in anomalous scattering techniques. He discusses how the field matured and had gained broader acceptance, and he surmises how these trends led to recruitment efforts that led to his tenure at Columbia in the 1980s. Hendrickson explains the labyrinthine nature of his many appointments and affiliations at Columbia, and the opportunities he has had to teach and to mentor graduate students within an environment that is primarily research-focused. He discusses the improvement of technology over the course of his time at Columbia, and he discusses his work on beamlines at Howard Hughes and Brookhaven. Hendrickson describes his work as scientific director of the New York Structural Biology Center, and he explains how his research has moved closer toward clinical motivations in recent years. At the end of the interview, Hendrickson reflects on his long career in biophysics, and he draws on the story of HIV infectivity as an example of how the field can progress from a place of really not understanding basic biological problems, to developing effective therapies.

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Paul Feldman, professor emeritus of physics at Johns Hopkins. Feldman recounts his childhood in New York, his education at Brooklyn Tech, and his undergraduate work at Columbia, where he studied with Polykarp Kusch and worked at Brookhaven Lab during the summers. Feldman describes his decision to stay on at Columbia for graduate school to work in high energy physics, his work at the Naval Research Laboratory, and he provides a broad overview of atomic physics going back to the 1940s. Feldman details his longtime collaboration on projects with NASA during his career at Johns Hopkins, and he describes the significance of the Hubble telescope. In the last portion of the interview, Feldman shares his views on what he considers to be the most important current and future topics of research in astrophysics.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews David J. Haas, President of the Tecco Corporation. Haas discusses his work as founder of Tempbadge and he recounts his childhood in Buffalo and then Texas. He describes his undergraduate education at the University of Buffalo, where biophysics was beginning to start as a distinct discipline. Haas explains his decision to remain at Buffalo for his graduate research, working under Fred Snell, and he describes his introduction to crystallography from David Harker at the Roswell Park Memorial Institute. He emphasizes the critical support provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), both to him as a graduate student and to biophysics generally at the time. Haas discusses his postdoctoral research in cryo-crystallography with David Phillips at the Royal Institute in London, and his brief work beforehand at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, DC. He describes his subsequent work at the Weizmann Institute in Israel where he continued his research in cryo-crystallography, and he describes the scene there during the Six Day War. Haas discusses his work at the Philips Corporation in New York, where he became involved with the X-ray research that would go into security scanners at airports and stadium venues. He explains his decision to go into business for himself with the launch of Temtec for which he created self-expiring visitor badges. At the end of the interview, Haas provides an overview for some of the major advances in biophysics over the course of his career, and he expresses optimism regarding the viability of antiviral therapies for Covid-19 by the end of the year.

Interviewed by
Joanna Behrman
Interview date
Location
Atlanta, Georgia
Abstract

In this interview, Joanna Behrman, Assistant Public Historian for AIP, interviews Marta Dark McNeese, Associate Professor of Physics at Spelman College. McNeese recounts her childhood in Maryland and early interest in science. She describes her decision to attend the University of Virginia and to major in physics. McNeese discusses the climate she experienced during graduate school at MIT and her support network. She further elaborates on her graduate research with Michael Feld on the ablation of biological materials by lasers. She describes work as a postdoc at the Naval Research Lab and how she was drawn to join Spelman College. McNeese recounts how Etta Falconer was instrumental in growing the physics department at Spelman. McNeese discusses mentoring students at the undergraduate level and the importance of women’s colleges and HBCUs. At the end of the interview, she describes the development of her research in biophysics and her involvement with APS and NSBP.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Arthur Bienenstock, professor emeritus of photon science and associate director of the Wallenberg Research Link at Stanford University. Bienenstock describes his childhood in New York City and his education at the Bronx High School of Science, his studies at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and his graduate work at Harvard. Bienenstock describes his postdoc work Harwell, the atomic energy research lab in England, his start as an assistant professor at Harvard, and his work in Washington at the Naval Research Lab and the National Bureau of Standards. Bienenstock discusses his move to Stanford, and the influence of the anti-war protests that were taking place in the late 1960s. He discusses the various strategies he has employed to balance his research and administrative duties over the years, and his involvement with the synchrotron radiation laboratory and with SLAC. Toward the end of the discussion, Bienenstock discusses his work in the realm of science policy at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House and as special assistant to the president for federal research policy at Stanford.